Girl On Fire
Girl On Fire
Straight out of New York’s Financial District (!), rapper Angel Haze is captivating
fans with her brutally honest rhymes.
By Stacey Anderson
When it comes to significant rappers who broke out of Brooklyn to achieve international fame, the list is daunting: The Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Lil’ Kim, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Big Daddy Kane. When it comes to the Financial District of Manhattan, though, the list will likely start and end with Angel Haze.
The 21-year-old singer and rapper (real name: Raykeea Wilson) recently departed Brooklyn for the land of power suits and investment bankers, a move she blames dryly on “hipsters” in the former. “Every new rapper is coming out of Brooklyn, I suppose,” she says by phone from New York, the contrarian disdain evident in her voice. “I don’t know. I don’t really pay attention to rap music.”
The move is yet another example of the consistent, bold brand of ambition that has served Haze so well over the past year. After releasing her ferocious first album Reservation online for free in July, the Detroit-born rapper rhymed in one of the BET Hip-Hop Award’s Cypher interludes and delivered two fiery sets at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York. Those performances left critics comparing her concise and rapid-fire flow to Lil Wayne and Azealia Banks. The ensuing hype led to a record deal with Universal Republic, and her major-label debut is tentatively scheduled for May. Even after scoring her deal, Haze continued to dispatch material at a furious pace. One of her tough-as-nails mixtapes includes the instantly notorious track “Cleaning Out My Closet,” in which she raps about being repeatedly sexually violated as a child over the beat of Eminem’s 2002 hit.
“My biggest aspiration musically is to say the things that other people won’t say,” Haze explains of the song, speaking in the brisk clip and weathered tone of an artist far older than her age. “When I put it out and it happens, it’s like, Wow, I didn't die. Nothing happened. So, let’s do it again.” She also was heartened by the online responses from her fans, and stunned by those who said they felt most affected by the song. “It was mostly guys,” she reveals. “It’s really shocking because, you know, the whole male persona is supposed to be unbreakable. They were ones who said, ‘You really spoke to me, and it’s really crazy to think anyone else could get it.’ That’s really cool.”
The courage to release such a brutally honest song came in large part from one of Haze’s hometown heroes. Due to her strict religious upbringing, Haze wasn’t allowed to listen to popular music as a child. Her first musical love came at age 16, when she branched out from the devout environment and listened to Eminem. “It’s his brashness,” she says of her fellow Detroit native’s continued appeal to her. “He's got this really ‘I don't give a fuck about anything you say, I’m going to say whatever I think’ type of attitude, and that’s always appealed to me. It’s brought me to like bands like fucking Linkin Park or guys like Kanye West. They all have that [attitude].”
Haze is currently labouring in the studio to finish her Universal debut, which she notes is shaping up to be a “hopeful” set of songs about love, with influences “across the board,” from rap to R&B and pop, and more of the hypnotic original hooks that marked Reservation. (She’s also working on a string of independent EPs on the side.) She shoots down the persistent rumour that the full-length album will feature a collaboration with Azealia Banks, but promises that she is embracing new challenges—not surprising for someone who once aspired to become a neurological surgeon. “The album’s going to be new. For me, I want it to sound like it's evolved—just taking a step up,” Haze asserts. “For every other album I do, I hope for the same result. It’ll be bigger.” No doubt, her stock will only continue to rise.